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Ryu Hyun-Jin: Dodgers' Foolish Investment in Korean Star Will End Badly

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JANUARY 08:  South Korean national baseball team player Ryu Hyun-Jin attends at the World Baseball Classic 2009 Korean Team Press Conference at Shilla Hotel on January 8, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

The Los Angeles Dodgers' seemingly limitless mountain of cash helped net them 25-year-old Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin, though he wasn't exactly the most high-profile pitcher they signed over the weekend. 

Still, Ryu cost the Dodgers plenty of money. According to the Los Angeles Times, he reportedly signed for $36 million over six seasons, including an opt-out after five years if he has pitched 750 innings. 

Of course, the $36 million doesn't include the $25.7 million posting fee the Dodgers paid just to negotiate with Ryu. That is an investment of nearly $62 million for a player who is likely going to be a mid-rotation starter, at best. 

By comparison, the posting fee is the third-largest in history for a pitcher, trailing only Yu Darvish ($51.7 million) and Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51.1 million). Matsuzaka was overpaid because people got caught up in the mystique of him supposedly having 12 different pitches, only to find out he was too much of a nibbler. 

Ryu doesn't even have the upside that Matsuzaka does, so he is already coming to the United States at a disadvantage. 

In today's market, assuming Ryu reaches his peak, that kind of money would be considered a bargain for a No. 3 or 4 starter. But that is an optimistic outlook on Ryu. It is very rare when a player actually reaches his full potential, so this deal appears doomed before it ever gets started. 

According to his biography on Baseball Reference, Ryu had Tommy John surgery when he was in high school. That is an immediate red flag, it doesn't matter how long ago that was. Whenever that kind of injury is out there, it is always going to be in the back of your mind. 

Baseball America (for subscribers only) wrote that Ryu works with a four-pitch mix that includes an average fastball, plus changeup, slurve and traditional curveball. His command, particularly of the fastball, helps him get hitters out despite not having overpowering stuff.

Ryu is listed at 6'1", 215 pounds, but he has a very stocky frame and doesn't look incredibly athletic. As long as his command is good, his body shouldn't be too problematic. 

But the upside is very limited with a pitcher like Ryu. He is not going to suddenly add two-three miles per hour to his fastball, which means he has to stay at the same level he was at with his previous team to have a chance at approaching a No. 3 starter. 

There are too many "what ifs" and red flags associated with Ryu as he prepares for his first season in Major League Baseball to think he can be an impact starting pitcher. If he has to move to the bullpen, he would have to be a middle reliever because he doesn't have the power stuff to pitch late in games, when you need someone who can miss bats. 

The Dodgers have paid about $62 million to get a back-end starter or middle reliever. For a team that spent $22 million on Brandon League over three years, maybe it doesn't matter that much. Unfortunately, throwing away that much money is not a good way to sustain success. 

 

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